Success on Examinations
the foundations for success occurs weeks before taking the examination. Indeed,
if examinations merely measured how much information you could cram into your
brain the night before, professors would have long since abandoned tests as
a useful measurement of what you had learned over the preceding weeks.
of preparing for an examination in the same way you would think of building
a house. You must plan in advance before laying the foundations and building
upward. It's a gradual process that takes time and ability. It's not like filling
a car with gas or pounding a beeractivities that require no forethought,
a minute amount of skill, and little time.
- Do the reading.
Think about the reading. Take notes on the reading. In fact, the food for
thought is a means of compelling you to take notes on the reading. No matter
how intelligent you are, you need to read. If you do not read, you will
remain ignorant, and even the greatest intelligence cannot overcome ignorance.
- Take thorough,
clear, and well-organized notes throughout the semester. You will have to
refer to these while you study.
- Look for the
big picture. Think about how the lectures, discussions, and readings relate
to one another. How does one event in a lecture contribute to the origins
of another event in a different lecture? To what kind of themes and ideas
does the professor keep returning? If you don't understand what's going
on, talk to the professor.
school teachers and college professors never spend much time explaining exactly
what they mean by the word "studying." Consequently, most students
don't really know how to spend the last few days before an examination. After
placing their notebook, the class handouts, the coursepack, and the textbook
on a desk, they begin to
b) clean their room, do the laundry, play video games, run errands . . .
c) calculate their worst-case scenario GPA
d) wonder if Bill Gates needed to know anything about history
e) get the van ready so they can leave college and follow the Phish tour
doesn't have to be that way. Take control of your destiny and master the situation!
Studying for an examination requires time, care, and thought. Studying is about
reviewing, thinking, and then memorizing.
- Look over
your notes from the class and the readings. Try to find patterns and put
together the big picture. How do different parts of the course relate to
- Don't try
to study everything. Figure out what is significant and understand it thoroughly.
Ignore the insignificant. This is the most important and difficult step
- Develop a
framework that helps you understand the relationship between important events,
institutions, practices, movements, and developments that have played a
prominent role in the course.
- Ask yourself
what kinds of questions the professor would put on the examination. Write
outlines of answers to these questions. Be as thorough and precise in your
answers as you possibly can. The actual question might not look exactly
the way you thought it would, but if you've given some serious thought to
the issues involved, you will still do well.
your outlines of these answers. As you do so, take pains to memorize the
specific facts and points that support your outline.
- Find a quiet,
peaceful place to review, think, and memorize. Leave the TV, the discman,
and the stereo off. Believe it or not, noise and moving pictures will impair
your ability to concentrate.
- Get some
sleep the night before!
you can see, these tasks require more than just a couple of hours. They also
demand that you use your grey matter. To do the job right, you probably ought
to break up this work into pieces over the course of several days.
the time you've sat in your desk and opened the bluebook, there isn't really
much you can do to enhance your performance (legally). Nevertheless, the following
suggestions might help.
- Read the question
carefully. The question may have several partsread all of them.
- Spend some
time thinking about the question. Let it sink in.
- Make sure
you answer the question asked. Try to provide as thorough and detailed an
answer as possible. Remember to think.
- Write an outline
to which you can refer. Such a device will allow you to provide a clear
and methodical answer to the question.
- Start your
essay with a thesis statement that directly addresses the question. Don't
just turn the question into a statementa thesis statement ought to
show more thought, analytical ability, and intelligence.
- Do not provide
a simple narration of events. In other words, don't just describe what happened.
Indeed, a question will never ask you "what happened?" In all
likelihood, it will ask you "why did it happen?" "how did
it happen?" or "how is this different from that?" Your answer
will require some sort of analysis.
- Try to be
as specific as possible. I will draw and quarter people who make such vague
assertions as, "The people fought for their rights." Which people?
What rights? Why did they fight? How did they fight?
- Budget your
- Write legibly.
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Copyrighted by Hugh Dubrulle, 2008.